Portuguese League XI: Best former players

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The Primeira Liga has a history of producing spectacular players, and is seen as a breeding ground for some of the world’s top talent, whether it’s a player moving from South America to gain experience in European football, or just a home-grown talent who has climbed academy and club ladders in the league.

Portugal itself is a huge footballing nation, and its club sides such as Porto and Benfica have seen many successes both at home and on the European stage.

The league has produced many spectacular players, but because the league is often dominated by two to three teams, it suffers from a less-competitive nature.

Due to this, the best players often seek to develop their talent at a Portuguese club, before moving on to Europe’s more prestigious leagues and clubs in search of higher levels of competition.

The following team will comprise of players who have left the Liga Portuguesa and gone on to become successes in their careers, with the timespan starting from the turn of the century to present.

Goalkeeper: Robert Enke

The German shot-stopper was snapped up by Benfica from Borussia Monchengladbach in 1999, and was very impressive for the Portuguese side.

He remained at the club until 2002, and despite Benfica going through a rough time both on and off the field, Enke was one of the leading lights of the side.

He moved on to Barcelona, but his career stagnated at the club which saw him loaned out twice in two years. The goalkeeper returned to his homeland in 2004 with Hannover, which is where he really began to replicate and surpass his form in Portugal.

He went on to represent the national side eight times and was favourite for the number 1 spot for the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Unfortunately, in one of the greatest footballing tragedies in modern times, he committed suicide in 2009 after suffering from depression throughout his career.

You can only speculate as to what he would have gone on to achieve if he was still playing today.

Right-back: Paulo Ferreira

The full-back learned his trade in the Portuguese league, climbing through lower teams until his big move to FC Porto came in 2002.

Possessing a very good ability to read the game, he helped his side win consecutive European trophies, bagging the UEFA Cup in 2003, and they became shock winners of the Champions League in 2004, with Ferreira playing a very large part of their campaign.

He followed manager Jose Mourinho to Chelsea for a fee in the region of £13m, and his fine form continued at Stamford Bridge, becoming part of a new footballing power in England and Europe.

Although he eventually fell down the pecking order at the club, when he was on top form he was superb, and certainly deserves a spot in the team.

Centre-back: Ricardo Carvalho

The next player on the list has many similarities to Ferreira above. After joining Porto in 1997, Ricardo Carvalho was loaned out numerous times as a youngster in order to gain experience, and when he eventually did receive a first-team spot at Porto his defensive abilities shone through.

Under Mourinho he became one of the most coveted defenders in Europe, with a whole host of top clubs looking for his signature. After winning the Champions League and being named the best defender in the tournament, Chelsea came knocking and they bought him for a fee around the £20m mark.

In the Premier League he showed why he was labelled as a world-class defender, as he and John Terry cemented a solid partnership in defence. He won many trophies at the Bridge, including individual accolades such as 2008 Chelsea Player of the Year.

Later on in his career he moved to Real Madrid, and more recently to billionaire Monaco, but it was in England where he gained his reputation as one of the world’s best.

Centre-back: Pepe

Next on the list is another former Porto defender, Pepe. The centre-back was signed as a replacement for the outgoing Carvalho in 2004 from Portuguese minnows Maritimo.

After a series of outstanding performances over the course of three seasons, where he demonstrated his aggressive yet defensively-minded play style, he secured a €30m move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

After a shaky injury-plagued start to his career in Spain, he soon began to justify his price tag as he gained a regular first team spot. Pepe is a hugely talented footballer, but unfortunately has the ability to completely lose it in important matches with violent outbursts at the opposition. Nonetheless, he is an excellent defender who is a striker’s worst nightmare to come up against with his ‘in-your-face’ playing style.

Left-back: Fabio Coentrao

The Benfica left-back attracted attention from Real Madrid, after he had established himself in the side in the 2010/11 season, being voted Breakthrough Player of the Year by fans.

Since his move to the Bernabeu, he has been unable to hold down a first team place, as he faces stiff competition from the Brazilian Marcelo, considered one of the best left-backs in the world. His position at Madrid is unfortunate, as he truly is a great defender who is equally adept at going both up and down the pitch.

Coentrao could certainly walk into the majority of teams across Europe, so perhaps a move away from Real Madrid would be best in order for him to achieve what he is capable of in his career.

Right-wing: Angel Di Maria

Another star Benfica player, the Argentine is a prime example of a player from South America making the move to Europe via Portugal.

He signed from Rosario Central in 2007 after the teenager turned down offers from Russia. Expectations were high for Di Maria, from both the club and fans, but that did not weigh him down as he dazzled the Primeira Liga with his pacy, tricky dribbling.

His talents made him one of Europe’s hottest prospects, with the likes of clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid bidding for his services. In 2010, he sealed a move to the Spanish capital with Real Madrid for around €25m, and much excitement surrounded the move, with footballing legend Diego Maradona tipping him to become the next Argentine superstar.

Whilst not fully living up to his sky-high expectations, Di Maria has still proven that he is a great player, with an impressive if not mind-blowing goals and assists record with Madrid.

Centre-midfield: Deco

The Brazilian-born Portuguese national was another of the star players from Porto’s Champions League success, winning Man of the Match in the final as well as picking up Midfielder of the tournament award.

Like his teammates and manager, a move to Chelsea seemed inevitable, but Barcelona came in with a late swoop, offering a player-plus-cash deal that included winger Ricardo Quaresma.

Deco turned into an exceptional player at Barcelona, managing to be one of the stars of a midfield that contained the great Ronaldinho in his prime. He always put in a strong, hard-working performance for the team, and his efforts saw him collect the Ballon d’Or runner-up prize in 2004.

Deco went on to achieve another Champions League title, as Barcelona won the competition in over Arsenal in the 2005/06 season, with him once again being awarded the best midfielder of the tournament.

He was a complete midfielder, strong, hard-working, goal-scoring and also possessed an excellent range of passing. Although further moves in his career, particularly to Chelsea, weren’t hugely successful, in his Barcelona days he can surely be considered to be one of the greatest Portuguese midfielders of all time.

Centre-midfield: Ramires

Pairing Deco is another hard-working midfielder, Ramires of Brazil.

He too chose to make the leap from South America to Europe by Portugal, joining Benfica from Cruzeiro in 2009. His hugely impressive performances for the Portuguese side saw him bought by Chelsea just a year after arriving.

As a box-to-box midfielder, he works incredibly hard during the game, able to make surging runs into the opponent’s half, whilst also being equally adept for winning the ball back for his team with a great ability to tackle. Ramires is also capable of scoring important goals, such as his strike against Liverpool in the 2012 FA Cup final, which helped Chelsea go on to lift the trophy.

Perhaps his most memorable performance on a football pitch came in the semi-final of the Champions League against Barcelona in 2012; as he scored a brilliant goal which sent them through to the final of the tournament, eventually going on to win the coveted prize.

He has also racked up over 30 caps for the national team, impressive considering the shear amount of competition in the midfield positions. Ramires is a superb player who would slot nicely into just about any team in Europe.

Left-wing: Nani

Perhaps a controversial inclusion due his recent form is Nani of Portugal.

Great things were expected of the winger upon his big-money move from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United, and he has shown flashes of brilliance whilst being at Old Trafford.

He is a winger very well-suited to the modern game, possessing excellent dribbling abilities paired with blistering pace, with the odd step-over here or there thrown in for good measure. Although suffering with inconsistency, Nani has undoubted talent, and as a move elsewhere this summer looks likely, perhaps he will be given a fresh start that will allow him to realise his potential.

Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo

Where to begin with Ronaldo? He made the move from Sporting Lisbon to England with Manchester United in 2003 and had six amazing years in the Premier League.

He developed into one of the world’s greatest players at Old Trafford, possessing a wide range of talents and winning countless trophies along the way. In search of a fresh challenge, Real Madrid had to pay a world-record £80 million to Manchester United in order to secure his services, but he has paid for that and more since his arrival at the Bernabeu.

The man can do anything; passing, dribbling, scoring, heading, free-kicks and much, much more. Whether or not he is the undoubted best player in the world remains a hot topic, with him up against Messi for the prestigious title. Ronaldo is one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, and with him being just 28 he has many years ahead of him, so who knows how much further he will develop.

Striker: Radamel Falcao

Pairing Ronaldo upfront is the prolific Colombian striker Falcao.

His goalscoring record prior to joining Porto from Argentine club River Plate was not particularly special, managing just over 30 goals in close to 100 appearances.

However, ever since he started banging in goals for the Portuguese side, he didn’t stop. 41 goals on 51 games for Porto saw him attracting suitors across Europe, and he crossed the border in 2011 to join Spanish side Atletico Madrid.

Much like his previous goal-scoring exploits in Portugal, he was again very impressive lighting up La Liga in his first season with 36 goals for the club, as well as two important goals in the Europa League final which saw his side lift the trophy. After impressive performances last season, Europe’s top clubs were once again lining up to sign the Colombian.

However, in a shock move, he chose the mega-rich, newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco over the likes of English giants Chelsea. Controversy still shrouds the move, as critics believe a player of his calibre should be at a top club plying their trade in the Champions League, as many accuse him of moving just for the rather large wages he will collect.

Only time will tell whether or not his move will be a successful one, but with his goal-scoring record it is difficult to doubt such a player.

With the Primeira Liga currently bursting with top talent, it is inevitable that we will see more stars emerge, with the likes of Benfica’s Nicolas Gaitan and Eduardo Salvio, and Porto’s Jackson Martinez already attracting interest from across the continent.

This summer has already seen some of Portugal’s best talent move on, with ex-Porto pair Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez once again linking up with Falcao at Monaco. It is without a doubt that the Portuguese League is full of rich-pickings for Europe’s top clubs.

Would your team contain any different players? Have your say down below.


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Paulo Ferreira
Cristiano Ronaldo
Luis Nani
Ricardo Carvalho

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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